By Dom Nozzi
June 21, 2001
I agree with parking guru Donald Shoup that the fuel tax (and high gas prices) are not an effective way to meaningfully reduce auto dependence.
Compared to the enormous sunk cost of owning a car, and the big benefits of driving one, a drive across town is, by comparison, a tiny cost — even if gas prices or gas taxes were high. As an aside, another reason high gas prices or gas taxes don’t have much effect these days is because of the relatively high fuel efficiency of cars today.
Shoup argues (and I agree) that if we really want to substantially influence the driving behavior of motorists, it is essential that we go after free parking that nearly every non-big city motorist enjoys nearly always. If a motorist is hit with a parking charge of, say, $5 each time she/he drives, it is a much more noticeable fee than the cost of gas for a single trip.
Other benefits of charging for parking: Local governments have a fair amount of control over parking prices, compared to gas prices. In addition, it is much easier, politically, to charge for parking than to increase the gas tax or establish toll roads.
Furthermore, charges for parking can be calibrated for types of trips easier than the crude gas tax. EVERYONE gets hit with a gas tax, regardless of whether they drive during rush hour or not, what streets they drive, or what location they drive to. By contrast, parking can be customized to be charged only in places where we especially have problems with people arriving by car (such as spillover parking in residential neighborhoods), and the amount of the parking charge can vary based on time-of-day to account for heavy use periods.